Council president, members of the Town Council, municipal employees, friends, relatives and fellow residents of Mt. Olive, I once again thank you for the opportunity to report on the State of the Township of Mt. Olive this year, 2017.
It gives me great pleasure to advise all of you that the budget I intend to submit to the Town Council will, for the fourth year in a row, contain no tax increase for municipal services. Further, through continued conservative fiscal management, the projections looking forward for 2018 and 2019 remain sound.
Although we, collectively, have successfully held the line on taxes, those efforts and results have not come at the expense, and/or resulted in a reduction of, the municipal services we provide. To the contrary we continue to improve and expand those services. I take pride in knowing that our efforts do not go un-noticed. One resident, who follows my facebook page, recently wrote that she “loves our community and all that it has to offer.” I, and many residents who have stopped to talk to me around town, share that same sentiment.
Mt. Olive has come a long way in the few years that we have governed. I see no reason to believe that 2017 and beyond will be any different.
We, as the elected officials, of course, cannot take all of the credit for Mt. Olive’s successes. Obviously, government works through the department heads, supervisors, employees and residents of the township. To all of our employees, I thank you for your efforts on the residents’ behalf and take pride in your successes, some of which I am now going to touch base upon.
The administration continues to coordinate all aspects of local government as between the municipal departments, local businesses and residents. Through the use of Facebook, radio, newspapers, flyers and other media, we have posted more than 7,000 announcements, events, job openings, programs, employment opportunities, weather and health concerns, as well as special notifications. Our efforts of communicating with the residents far exceed any of the surrounding municipalities.
We are continuously working on developing and re-developing properties, in an effort to build and sustain or commercial ratable base throughout the township.
Responding to employees’ concerns and recent events, we’ve implemented additional security measures in town hall, including panic buttons in all departments and additional emergency exits in council chambers, finance and planning.
Along with our building security measures, all staff went through mandatory active shooter training, conducted by Chief Steve Beecher. The first active shooter drill included a practice run of building evacuation.
This year the township also purchased three automated external defibrillators (AEDs) that have been placed in various locations in Town Hall. Eight staff members were trained on how to use the AEDs.
In 2016, the township was faced with the health and safety issue related to the storage of propane and butane railroad tankers within the township. At present, I am pleased that no such tankers currently remain in Mt. Olive. We have requested that, when Morris County renews its lease with the Railroad in spring 2017, that such storage be prohibited.
Now that the Morris Hunt/Morris Chase developments are near completion, the township has taken over all public services including street lighting and snow removal, as well as the public water system.
A number of measures were taken by the township to provide relief for residents of Sunset Drive, due to the proximity of their homes to Turkey Brook Park. These measures include new fencing, additional signage, new trees, and redirecting some of the field lighting.
Last year, Givaudan generously donated $32,550 to the township to fund improvements to Drakesbrook Park for the lacrosse program. This donation will fund a new park entrance sign, a new solar powered scoreboard, a storage shed and a practice wall.
Substantial work was done on the Seward House to stabilize the structure; 80 percent of the work was funded by the Morris County Historic Preservation Trust and included roof repair, masonry restoration, repair and replacing portions of the cupola, and repairing and/or replacing windows and doors.
The restoration of the Baptist Church is nearly complete. All that’s outstanding are lime washing the exterior and the installation of ADA accessible restrooms. This year, with 80 percent funding from the Morris County History Preservation Trust, completed work included moisture protection, doors, finishes, installation of plumbing and electrical, and restoration of metals and carpentry.
Due to the large number of vehicles and the large expense of vehicles the township purchases each year, we formed a Fleet Committee consisting of Councilman Alex Roman and representatives from finance, administration and DPW. This year the committee reviewed proposed purchases, their cost and their justification prior to the requests coming before council.
Thanks in part to Council President Joe Nicastro’ request, the township purchased two flag donation boxes so that residents and business owners may dispose of their flags according to federal protocol. These boxes are located in Town Hall and at Turkey Brook Park.
After the blizzard in January and the numerous issues that occurred within the apartment complexes, administration and DPW met several times with the property managers of Village Green, Eagle Rock, Oakwood Village to assist them in developing a plan for both staging of residents’ vehicles as well as timely snow removal, so that residents are not trapped on the premises and so that township emergency vehicles can access the property during weather events.
After NJDEP notified us that their standards for certain types of chemical contamination became much stricter in 2015, the number of affected properties increased from one to 35. Administration continues to work closely with DEP to install waterlines to all of these properties. While we had optimistically hoped the project would be completed this year, mapping all of the wells on each property took longer than expected. The project will commence in early 2017 and we hope it will be completed by summer.
The NJDOT re-paved Route 46 from Sand Shore Road to Old Wolfe Road this year. The project, with the coordination of the township, went smoothly with a minimum impact on traffic.
This year, Atlantic Ambulance took over Hackettstown Regional Medical Services EMS service in Mt. Olive. However, the service has remained the same. As with HRMS, Atlantic pays the township rent to house their ambulances in the Blue Atlas building. This rent goes into a dedicated fund that pays for ambulance services provided to Mt. Olive residents who do not have the resources to pay for the services.
The township received an in-kind grant from NJDOT that will examine all of our current trails planning documents and our existing trails, and develop a comprehensive plan of our current trails, potential connections, potential new trails, potential funding sources and an implementation plan.
Finance Department Accomplishments
The Finance Department, as always was outstanding in 2016. Some of those accomplishments included a finalized tax list for 2016 which resulted in a net valuation taxable that was $35 million higher than it was in 2015.
They handled a total of 38 county appeals and eight state appeals which were filed in 2016. Out of the approximately 8,500 tax line items, the appeals represented less than one percent of our ratable base.
The anticipated current fund balance at year end was more than one million dollars higher than it was in 2015. That end of the year fund balance is the largest in the last 16 years and is directly attributable to the collection rate, added assessments and conservative budgeting.
The year end collection rate exceeded the rate in 2015. The 2015 rate was 99.03 percent.
The reverse tax appeals pursued against five apartment complexes in town netted more than $240 million in added assessment which resulted in more than $900,000 in additional revenue to the township.
The 2015 audit was finalized with no audit recommendations for the eighth year in a row. The LOSAP audit, arbitrage audit and worker’s compensation audits were also finalized with no recommendations.
The October bond sale resulted in a credit rating increase for the township of one step below AAA. The sale also resulted in almost $200,000 of premium earnings for the township and a very low interest rate.
The annual tax sale resulted in $685,000 of premiums. In the event a lien is not redeemed within five years, those premiums will escheat to the township.
The added assessment list for 2016 resulted in a net increase of $28 million in prorated assessment and $831,000 to the township in additional revenue.
The IT department upgraded the township phone system with Lightpath’s IP based phone system, with an annual cost savings of approximately $3,000. The installation provided 125 IP based phones to end users with an overall better quality of service as well as full redundancy in the event of a power outage.
Township internet speed has increased from 50mb to 100mb. The increase allows for faster downloads and less bottlenecking of data which includes cloud storage, offsite backs-ups, video surveillance, file transfers and internet browsing.
Lightpath has also agreed to credit us the remaining months on our Avaya maintenance contract which covers our current PBX phone system at a savings of approximately $17,000.
With the implementation of Livestream, we will be able to connect with our community during town council meetings. Viewers can watch on any device, including desktops, tablets and mobile devices.
Department of Public Works
The Department of Public Works had numerous, substantial accomplishments in 2016.
The 2016 road resurfacing program included curbing and resurfacing at the South Sutton Park area of Flanders on Hermanne, Deerpath. The second section, Downstream, Pheasant Court is to be completed in 2017. In 2016, DPW paved the Kevin Drive/Bennington Road sections of Bennnington Woods; Flanders Bartley section, Lozier, Station Road and Old Wolf Road also completed.
Drainage was also improved on Drakestown Road, River Road, Firetower, sections of Sandshore, Crease Road, Grant Court, and Ridge Road.
Tree removal resulted in more than 75 dead or hazardous trees cleared from the township right of way and detention basins.
Full depth pothole repairs were accomplished on Flanders Drakestown, Tinc Road and River Road.
Sanitation continues garbage collection within Chester Borough, including household dumpster service and large item pickup. The large item sticker program has had a revenue return of over $25,000.
DPW also revamped the residential recycling center to be more resident friendly for drop of recycling materials.
In 2016, acquisition of the Morris Chase water system from American water was accomplished which has resulted in lower residential water rates to the residents and improved water supply within the Goldmine estates water area.
DPW also installed a 300,000 gallon holding tank at the Flanders sewer plant for additional holding capacity, in part, to allow the construction of the Regency at Flanders.
The Fleet Department that was put in place by the current administration in Jan. 2013 has become an integral part of Mt. Olive’s DPW, and the decision to bring Fleet Maintenance in house has proven to be a great success.
For the fourth year running, Fleet Maintenance has surpassed its expectations and been under budget. By continued use and refinement of the Fleet Master Plan, vehicle down time and costs have continued to drop. Fleet has been able to keep more than 99 percent of all repairs in-house.
The Recreation Department held 19 special events in 2016 with more than a total of 32,000 attendees, 198 business sponsors and over 65 volunteers.
Five new events debuted, including the Mermaid, Pirate and Princess Lunch at the Fairy & Pirate Festival, the Pajama Run 5K, the Township-wide Garage Sale, Glow Run 3K, Hot Cocoa 5K and Winterland; and returning favorites like Cabin Fever Reliever, Raiders of the Lost Park Mud Run, Mt Olive Week Carnival, Movie Nights at the Park, Touch-a-Truck, Food Trucks & Fireworks attracted many.
Approximately 1,200 adults participated in 44 programs; about 2,300 children participated in 225 programs; more than 900 children participated in 16 summer camp programs.
Pirates Cove at Mt. Playmore opened on July 16 and continued to be popular the rest of the summer.
Mandatory fingerprint background checks for volunteer coaches began in January, with more than 400 volunteers participating.
The Planning Department was actively engaged in a number of projects.
Site plan applications approved by the Planning Board included: use variance/site plan approval to utilize property on Flanders Netcong Road for storage and maintenance of equipment; use variance/site plan approval to Motion Kia to utilize vacant parcel on Harris Lane for storage of vehicles; preliminary and final site plan approval to Scannell Properties for construction of 48,300 square foot building in the Foreign Trade Zone on International Drive; preliminary and final site plan for construction of two story building consisting of 9,600 square feet on Gold Mine Road to be used as office/warehouse facility; preliminary and final site plan approval to Mavis Tire to construct a new retail store consisting of 6,762 square foot on 259 Route 206; Mountain Ridge Estates (Simoff) obtained amended preliminary and final site plan approval and minor subdivision approval to create a separate lot for the 54 low and moderate income units. The new owners of the Sutton Plaza Shopping Center obtained minor subdivision approval to subdivide the one lot into three lots.
The Planning Department also worked on draft ordinances to expand the range of permitted uses to include residential use in the FTZ-4 zone district.
The township also continued in its efforts to acquire the former Cobblestone Nursing home site to remove the abandoned buildings and to redevelop the site with affordable housing.
The Building Department had collected approximately $640,000 in 2016, with $585,000 staying within the township as revenue.
During the period of Jan. 1to Nov. 28, 2016-the Building Department issued a total of 2,200 new and updated permits.
The department had a total of almost 5,000 inspections: 1,900 for building, 1,400 for electric, 1,100 for plumbing, and 465 for fire. The department also issued 61 permits for new homes within the township.
The biggest change in the court system last year involved state mandated bail reform. That reform has led to a fundamental shift in how both courts and police departments process arrests.
Mt. Olive continues to provide through a recently negotiated contract court services to Netcong Borough. Mt. Olive will see at least a two percent increase in fees from this service agreement each year for the next five years.
Monitored events and progress and participated in public meeting regarding Combe Fill North well water contamination.
Six private wells ran dry; all affected properties were issued permits for alterations; a few received supplemental assistance from the Township Water & Sewer Department.
After a joint investigation with the Zoning, Health and Police Departments, the Young Health Spa (193 Rt. 206) was forced to close due to failure to fulfill licensing requirements.
There were 28 dogs impounded, 25 dogs reclaimed, one dog adopted, one dog euthanized; 13 cats impounded, two cats reclaimed and one cat euthanized.
In terms of our shared service contracts, there were 68 responses to Byram Township animal control calls and 49 responses to Washington Township. Animal Control issued a total of 697 cat licenses, and 2447 dog licenses.
The Health Department conducted 469 inspections which included: 136 retail food inspections and 899 inspections of multi-dwelling units.
In total the Health Department issued 53 summonses for numerous violations.
With respect to health education/community outreach, the Health Department took certain measures such as a registered dietician at Senior Center; a booth display at the carnival; trained more than 60 volunteers; created a new Health Department website that showcases services;created Zika Virus education posters and placed in several venues in town; conducted two Retail Food Handler’s training courses for local food businesses.
As to public health nursing, the Health Department held several screenings and clinics.
As to seniors, transportation ridership in all categories increased; new programs created such as the Walking Club and “Let’s Move” exercise program; visits from groups such as Heartbeat Dance Center’s National Champion Tap Quartet and the CMS fourth grade chorus; and special trips for shopping and restaurants.
The Fire Marshall’s office conducted a total of approximately 2,500 premises and 468 smoke detector inspections among the three towns Mt. Olive provides such services for through shared service agreements.
Mount Olive Police Department
The Mt. Olive Police Department had many successes including NJSACOP LEAP Accreditation Re-Certification; Captain Beecher graduated from Rutgers CPM in May, becoming chief replacing Chief Mark Spitzer after 30 years of service; the police department helped prepare building change recommendations and training related to safety.
It conducted the first township employee active shooter drill in Nov. instituted Law Enforcement Against Drugs (LEAD) program in all elementary schools.
Lt. Austenberg started the MOPD Pink Patch Project in October to promote Breast Cancer Awareness;
Officer Elbaum Initiated the Coffee with a Cop Program to stimulate community officer communication and conversation;
With regard to calls, the Police Department responded to approximately 1,100 alarms, 1,300 ambulance requests, 25 assaults, 43 burglaries, 12,300 directed patrols, 108 theft/shoplifting incidents, 781 traffic crashes, 42 criminal mischief incidents, 139 incidents of harassment, 180 noise complaints, several drug overdose calls saving seven victims by administering Nasal Narcan.
Three officers assigned to patrol received the Morris County 200 Club Award for Valor in 2016 for their actions at two residential fires where they entered the structures and saved two lives.
The police department closed down three massage parlors as a result of prostitution/massage ordinance.
What I have included in this address is only a small sampling of what our Township Departments and employees accomplished over the course of the last year, and what they accomplish on a daily basis. Let us not forget that they are on the front line everyday working to make Mt. Olive a better safer place to live. To that end, I congratulate all of the employees in all of the successes of 2016 and look forward to greater achievements in 2017.
I would like to thank the Town Council, our Business Administrator, Laura Harris, and all of our municipal employees for a job well done in 2016. May you all and have a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.
Sincerely and with great appreciation,
Mayor, Mt. Olive Township
For the full address, go to www.mtolivenews.com.